Setting off across the Forest it was one of those glorious glorious mornings which you could only hope would last throughout the day. How would my students get on with each other, with the owner, with the horses? With one clicker sceptic and one clicker advocate there was room for some philosophical debate.
From the outset they seemed quite smiley.
We started with reluctant loader, Tor, a Dartmoor Pony, who has learned that he can use his strength to say no. We talked about how we can make life more comfortable for him in the box with padding to the front bar (always a good idea) and perhaps a lower setting to suit his diminutive figure.
Having closed up the panels just once, and introduced a mix of clickered treats, he loaded and continued to load at intervals throughout the day. We brought him back in between all of the other sessions just to make sure it wasn't a fluke.
Here Vikki asks him to back out of the trailer, taking care to steer him carefully using his head as a rudder in order to direct his hindquarters. Tip of the day: If his hindquarters drift to the left them turn his head to the left and vice versa.
Charlotte, aged 8, unloads her pony through the front ramp. It's half term and she was a little darling all day.
Having removed all of the bars and partitions, and with the panels only in place just in case, it was time to find out how Hamish the Highland Pony feels about loading.
Owner, Nichola, asks him to back out again.
Approaching from the rear in preparation for putting the back bar up - it's useful to speak in a sing-songy voice, relaxed as you can be - and make sure the horse is happy to accept touch from the hand. Note I am over to his left to keep out of his kick zone as much as I can.
Caroline using a swimming noodle to check how he might feel about a back bar, having introduced it to him outside the box first.
Time for the real thing and always important to clip everything in place even when practising. You don't want a bar to become dislodged and frighten the horse if he suddenly moves.
Closing the ramp. The jockey door is unlocked in case of emergency and in this case secured with a lolly stick so that it doesn't accidentally open with the horse on board; it would then give in the event that the handler needed to get out quickly.
Having unloaded out of the back a couple of times, we unloaded him out of the front. It's important for horses to know how to back out of a trailer and contrary to popular opinion it does not teach them to back out of the trailer in a hurry.
Important to teach that ramp down does not mean 'horse out' and to teach them to wait patiently until you are ready. One step towards the jockey door helps a single horse parked on the right of the trailer to come out without fear of banging into the doorway.
Next customer! Scooby, a four year old traditional cob. He seemed to be a great match for Caroline whose own pony is a black and white. She was keen to form a relationship with him from the outset and was delighted that he chose to place his trust in her so quickly.
Taking a little look round before going in. We can certainly allow a little moment for this willingness to explore...pulling at this stage, where he is teetering on the edge of going in, could result in him leaving instead.
And in he goes. Scooby was very satisfied with the lovely hay in the trailer and so clicker treats or a bucket of food weren't necessary.
Moving the partition across to see what he thought. You can see he has a running foot up.
Time for the mock back bar again - we go out and in again between a lot of these stages.
After a break while we worked with another horse all of the panels were taken down as they clearly weren't needed.
Once more the real thing...
...and ramp up with no bother.
Our last horse is Bertie, a two year old cob. I have never worked with him before and feared the worst when I was told that he had refused to leave his field only a few days before and reared with the farrier.
This time Vikki took charge and must have looked convincing. The fact that we had no problems throughout the day is testament to the low energy and empathy of everyone in the team today. We had expected a little drama.
Soon he too was loading and unloading without any problems. He accepted the mock bar before having a break.
After the break, and with no panels around, he loaded without hesitation and tucked into his hay. The back bar goes up...
...followed by the ramp...
...and he too finishes by unloading through the front door.
"...absolutely loved it thank you so much for coming up with the idea." NN
"Today wasn't about "making" though - it was a gradual and low key, low energy way of introducing the horse to the various elements of the experience of being loaded. Each step built on the previous step and only followed when the horse was happy and confident with the previous step. So that's right in line with my philosophy (well the one taught to me by Sarah Weston and Ben Hart but which I feel in-tune with) and suited me well. Each of the 4 horses we worked with over the course of the day loaded successfully, quietly and happily - even though they had only experienced a single transport journey to their home before. They each took their individual time to deal with the stages of loading but they sailed through it all very well and it proved how well Sarah's approach works." CW on Facebook
"Thank you had a fab time, even managed to get my friends horse in the next day! With your guidance :-) Well worth the day thank you so much." VH